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UCLA Looks For Redemption Against Well-Rested Stanford In Pac-12 Opener

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Tyler Gaffney #25 of Stanford is hit by Tony Dye #6 of UCLA during the first quarter at the Rose Bowl on September 11, 2010 in Pasadena. (Harry How/Getty Images)

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STANFORD (CBS/AP) — Andrew Luck’s beard made a comeback over the bye week when he took a couple days to be a “bum,” watching football for a change instead of starring on the highlight shows.

This weekend, Stanford hopes the extra scruff is the only sign of the time spent on the couch.

After a stellar start this season in almost every way imaginable, the sixth-ranked Cardinal return to face UCLA on Saturday night in the Pac-12 home opener. The game will be the first at Stanford Stadium in a month because of a schedule that pushed the program on the road for back-to-back weeks before the break.

Even Luck is starting to get restless.

“I think the more I’ve played college football, the less fun it is to watch football on TV, because I think you’re so used to watching what you do on film, what people do on film,” Luck said. “We were watching games with a couple of my buddies. It’s like all the offensive lineman, all they do is, ‘Oh, great set by the right tackle.’ Or watching with the defensive guys, ‘Oh, way to set the edge by the safety.’ It’s stuff like that. It’s not fun, per se.”

Luck will get a chance to have some fun this weekend.

Even though UCLA and Stanford were split into separate divisions when the league expanded to the Pac-12 this year, conference presidents agreed to allow the California schools to play each other each season. For a change, that’s not good news for the once-proud program down south.

The Cardinal (3-0, 1-0) have turned into college football heavyweights in recent years and have trounced San Jose State, Duke and Arizona by a combined 138-27 this season. While they’re riding the nation’s longest winning streak at 11 games, the Bruins (2-2, 1-0) already have losses to Texas and Houston and had to squeak out wins against San Jose State and Oregon State.

Stanford also blew past UCLA 35-0 last season for its first victory at the Rose Bowl since 1996. This year, the Bruins might feel satisfied if they just stay competitive on The Farm.

“We look at this as a great opportunity,” UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel said. “Last year, they embarrassed us and we have to answer that. They have a great defense and much heralded for a reason. We have to play a great offensive game. We want our chance.”

They’ll get it.

The Bruins’ Pistol offense ranks second in the conference with 214 yards rushing per game behind the one-two punch of Johna Franklin and Derrick Coleman. The formation that puts a quarterback in shotgun—but closer to the line of scrimmage—and lines the running back behind him will face its toughest test yet.

The Cardinal boast the best rushing defense in the nation, allowing only 36 yards on the ground per game. However, they’re missing inside linebacker and leading tackler Shayne Skov, who had a season-ending left knee injury in the previous game at Arizona. The burden will fall on Jarek Lancaster and A.J. Tarpley to fill the void.

“You have to be locked in. You have to communicate greatly on defense when they change formations,” said Stanford coach David Shaw, who worked as an assistant alongside Neuheisel on the Baltimore Ravens staff in 2005. “What they do with different guys is the reason why they’ve been successful.”

As with every Stanford opponent this season, everything comes back to stopping Luck.

Nobody has done it yet.

The Heisman Trophy hopeful and projected No. 1 overall pick in April’s NFL draft has been his solid self, throwing for 786 yards and eight touchdowns and scrambling for another 52 yards on the ground. His lone interception came on a tipped ball by receiver Chris Owusu.

Luck passed for 151 yards and two scores—modest, by his standards—in the win over the Bruins last season. Even though it wasn’t his best game, the memory of how he orchestrated the offense hasn’t faded at UCLA.

“There would be times when we were trying to substitute our packages in, and he would just notice that,” Bruins safety Dietrich Riley said. “He would see us substituting, and he would just run a play. He’s just that smart.”

So there probably couldn’t be a worse time this season for UCLA to have a chunk of its secondary injured.

Neuheisel was hopeful all the wounded should be ready come kickoff, including cornerback Sheldon Price (right knee) and safety Dalton Hilliard (left shoulder). Both missed practice time this week.

For the Bruins’ sake, they better be ready.

Luck had an extra week to study film and pick apart UCLA’s defense. Not to mention all the time spent loafing on his couch, learning from the mistakes of others and itching for a chance to get back on the field.

“It’s interesting to be able to watch college football all day and then the NFL on the next day,” Luck said. “But I’m sort of sick of watching football.”

(Copyright 2011 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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